Saturday, 28 November 2020

Ultracast figures and Mortem Et Gloriam


This is a very quick look at the ancient / medieval rules by Simon Hall, published by Plastic Soldier Company and also the new 15mm armies that Plastic Soldier Company are putting out using their new Ultracast material, which support the rules. 

Just a reminder, this is not a review site. These are items that I have recently bought and I am not indebted to the company in any way (or in fact anyone mentioned in this blog), I just write about things that I am enjoying.


To find out a little more about the rules and my experience with putting a couple of chariot models together, please use the ‘read more’ tab.



Simon Hall enthusiastically put together Mortem Et Gloriam (MeG) and self distributed, before being picked up by Plastic Soldier Company. Now you can buy the new edition rules in a hardback cover as a stand alone item or pay £20 more and get the Compendium rule set, which includes Compendium Edition rules, game charts, special dice, a dice bag, cards, a set of chits to replicate the cards and a set of game markers.





I am not going to explain too much about the game because Simon Hall did a very good video that demonstrates a small battle (Sabis 57 B.C.) that sits in a 3’ x 2’ space using ‘Pacto’ armies and by watching the video you will get an instant impression of whether the rules / system are for you. A link to the video is in the Resource Section below.


I became attracted to the game because of the claim that the system brought out the essential elements and character of an army, making them fight in a realistic way, for example allowing the differences between how an early Roman army fights compared to a later Roman army. Whilst I haven’t used the rules yet, I can see the rather elegant mechanics that form the basis to that claim, made all the more impressive by there being over 650 free army lists available to download.


It should also be said at this point that this particular author gives unstinting support to his game.


The Compendium Edition rulebook is beautifully produced with some 230 pages of very well illustrated rules on a lovely satin feel paper. The page count should not be thought of as an indicator of complexity as the author uses a goodly amount of space as a gentle pre-amble to the rules and explaining a terrain generation system.





The font is very readable and the text is well spaced amongst various illustrations, with the author going out of his way to make sure that everything is properly explained in an almost conversational style. The photo above is typical of the book content. 


There are 3 pages that can be photocopied that provide ‘paper armies’ so that the player can get started straight away without needing actual models (these may only be in the Compendium Edition - I don't know). The idea here is that the paper army can be mounted on MDF bases and then bases can be swapped out over time as real figures are painted and inserted into the army - a neat idea.


The compendium includes cardboard discs that can be used instead of the playing cards and they are drawn blindly from the provided draw bag, which simulates the dealing of a shuffled card deck. These discs are the size of a coin and colour match the contents of the card deck. They are small and less conspicuous on the table than cards and their reverse side has been given a ‘grass look’, so that while face down and concealed they blend better with a wargame mat etc.


The game can be played at three different levels of figure concentration, but they are all using around 10 - 20 units, it is just the size of the units that differ, with their unit frontages, the number of bases in a unit and the figure headcount that increases with the bigger games. 


Pacto is the smallest setting, playing in a 3’ x 2’ space (4’ x 3’ for 28mm). A unit is just a single file (base) wide by 2 - 3 bases deep. Then there is the ‘Magna’ game, which is larger and gets 28mm onto a 6’ x 4’ table, or 15’s into a 4’ x 3’ space, finally we have the ‘Maximus’ game, which basically takes 15mm figures to a 6’ x 4’ table or 28’s to a 9’ x 5’ table.


Plastic Soldier Company have created some 15mm Pacto armies for the smaller game and these come boxed with the right unit mix. These are using the Corvus Belli figures manufactured with Ultracast plastic under licence by PSC.





The game is driven by the use of colour codes. A system that the author calls Colour Command & Combat System (CCC) and this looks to be something that he hopes to use as an engine for other periods. There is a WWII tactical set in the final stages of production.


There are 5 colours used and in ascending order of importance they are black, white, green, yellow and red. These colours are used in the card deck, allowing commanders to ‘do things’ and are also used in the combat system with different coloured dice delivering different strengths of results.


The card deck is built up from these colours and at the start of a turn the shuffled cards are dealt to each commander on the board. The commander will get a number of cards that relate to how good they are, so for example a competent general would get 3 cards. Those cards will determine the flexibility and capability of that general’s force for that turn.


For example, playing a green card or better on a unit would allow a formed unit to advance with a wheel, whilst a tribal unit (i.e. not formed or drilled) would need a yellow card or better to do the same manoeuvre, so better generals with better trained units can do more with the same hand of cards.





When it comes to combat, colour coded dice (black to red as above) are used. From the black through to red, each improving dice colour code gets more of its die faces giving an effective result. For example, black has 2 results and 4 blank faces, the white gets 3 results and 3 blank faces, until you reach red which has all 6 faces giving some sort of result. Additionally it is not until you escalate to a green dice that the results include an outright kill, so the best the black and white dice will do is give a half kill.


Casualties are removed by the base, with half casualties being marked against the unit.


At the outset of each combat, two equally matched and rated formations would essentially each get a green dice, that is a sort of default position, but situations are often unequal and so in this system, advantages and disadvantages are not expressed as die roll modifiers, rather the value (colour) of each persons die will go up or down depending on advantage or disadvantage of the moment, such as better / worse troop quality or being uphill or having an impact weapon.


Initially I thought this non-traditional way of doing things looked a bit overwhelming, but it doesn't seem to be, mainly because the army you are operating will contain a limited number of options and weapon factors and as with most systems, should quickly become second nature through repeated play. The demo games that I have watched on video seem quite straight forwards and I think running an initial game would likely embed the main rule elements.


The rules look clean and the supporting charts are good and the videos seem to suggest that play becomes second nature and that the rule book stays off the table. 





I think in Simon’s Sabis video (above), this second nature aspect kicks in all too obviously and on occasion he rattles things off at speed, forgetting that he might be leaving some of us behind! but never-the-less, it also might be indicative of how easy it will be to adopt the rules. 


I am about to find out, as I settle down with the rulebook and will read it through from start to finish before tinkering with dice and a few units. I have some high hopes, but I have been having high hopes for rules for over 45 years and here I am, still buying new ones :-)


Anyway, I will stop there because, my own knowledge is still scant and Simon’s video (link below) does the perfect job of introducing the system as well as giving an entertaining battle.


Part 2 - Ultracast material.


PSC have started using a new type of material for their figures and they call this Ultracast. It is a pliable grey plastic that is very light, very robust and can be painted without a primer. In some respects it has much of the advantages of, say, an Airfix figure, without the disadvantages.


To support the ancient / medieval MeG rules, Plastic Soldier Company are producing 15mm figures from the Corvus Belli line under licence using this new material.


If you are researching this stuff, you need to use a little caution when looking at reports or videos of around 6 months ago. Those samples sent to reviewers at that time were pre-production and if you base your opinion wholly on them, you may be disappointed. 


A few weeks ago when my interest was peeked, I phoned the company said that I was interested, but saying that without wanting to sound rude, that I had been put off by the pre-production reviews and I asked if they had improved. They told me that there had been a pre-production issue, which was now resolved - on the back of that I bought two army boxes, though if you are cautious and want a dabble, you could always just buy one of their cheaper support baggies, which start at £6 just to sample them.


The range is currently being sold as boxed Pacto armies plus small baggies of extra items, such as Roman bolt shooters, archers and cavalry that can be used to increase the versatility of the base army. 



I decided to buy a Gallic army and an Early Imperial Roman army. To get some British battles going, I sent in a second order for 1 pack of British skirmishers and 1 pack of Celtic Light Chariots to broaden the use of the Gallic army. The Romans couldn’t be left out so I got them a pack of bolt shooters.


As an example of box contents, the Early Imperial Roman army box has 3 mounted command, 6 foot command, 14 veteran legionary infantry, 28 legionary infantry, 14 auxiliary infantry and 12 cavalry. The riders and horses for the cavalry are separate. I would described the figures as ‘true’ 15mm.


As nicely presented boxed armies, these press all of the nostalgia buttons of this ‘Airfix Generation’ wargamer, there is just something lovely about opening up a box of figures for the first time and pulling the sprues out and sorting through the poses. Even the little support baggies are cute in a ‘lucky bag’ type of way - anyway, all is good in my rose tinted glasses.


All I have done so far is to put the Chariots together from the Celtic Light Chariots bag, so my comments are pretty much based on that experience alone.


The pack has a pair of light, two horse chariots with enough room on board for two figures. Surprisingly you get 9 figures in the set to choose from, though only two are driver riders. There is a Boudica figure amongst the pack, so of course I have included her.





There is a slight mould line around quite a lot of the figures, but this is thin and it does remove fairly easily with a sharp knife. It is more than you would get on a typical hard plastic figure. You have to be careful not to scrape, because you can get a slight shredding of the surface just as you might if you filed plastic, but the material slices easily and overall I managed to clean up the figures okay. The above photo was taken after my first round of cleaning, I did go in a second time.


This frankly is less messy than filing lead and less toxic than poly cementing multi part plastics together, so in terms of figure preparation, it is what it is and acceptable to me.


Detail overall is good with pretty much everything raised enough that the brush tip passes over and around them easily, making painting straight forward and accurate.


I just used a standard technique of block paint, wash and then a few highlights and found it more convenient to do all of this while the items were still on their sprues. 





I didn’t paint the floor of the chariots so that there was a better glue contact with the feet of the charioteers and then once glued I just passed the paint brush onto the exposed floor.





Superglue works fine for putting the wheels on the chariot, adding the figures and putting that bar harness across the horses shoulders, though of course for most of what I bought, they are all fully moulded items that don’t need any assembly (cavalry are split as rider and horse) and the foot figures are modelled with individual bases on them, it is just the charioteers who are not.


The material does take paint well and the grey surface preserves brighter colours. Those that like to prime black as part of their painting technique can obviously still do that, but with the advantage that just ordinary black acrylic paint can be used rather than needing any solvent based sprays etc.


Some of my British Skirmishers had bent spears, in the same way that soft plastic 1/72 sets can have, but these were easily straightened and stayed straight when they were treated in hot water, dipped in using tweezers.


I have mounted these chariots onto 40mm x 40mm plastic card (pre-cuts from Peter Pig), which match the basing system of the MeG rules (though you can use any basing system), which I think reflect DBx style basing for 15mm.


I can’t believe how light each chariot model is, I rather like this material.


I have no wish to bend the models all over the place like some of the video reviews chose to do to emphasise their ‘bendiness’ in an almost critical way - but suffice to say, these look like robust figures, which can easily survive general (and even rough) handling, the rigours of the wargames table and even being dropped (yes I did that!) and which will not see their paint separate from the material or anything break (a few weeks ago I dropped a box of 28mm hard plastic ACW and had a bayonet, a horse tail and a flagpole all break, these Ultracast figures would have easily survived that impact).


I will likely go on to paint both armies up and providing I get on with the MeG system, I would be quite content playing Pacto games in a small space as highlighted in the video below. As a purchase, this has felt quite different to anything that I have done in a while and I like it for that.


Resource Section.


Simon Hall explaining MeG with the Battle of Sabis 57 B.C. LINK

https://youtu.be/hrlLEeU6aqg


28 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Will, your support and enthusiasm of the system contributed to my buying decision.

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  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Aaron, I think you have these armies.

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  3. Good review, indeed. I look forward to seeing you take your new armies and MeG for a spin on the table.

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    1. Thanks Jonathan, though the mechanics are quite different from anything I am used to, the concept itself and the fact that the engine might become more widely applied to other periods is an additional draw. I that regards, I can see it doing what C&C does.

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  4. They look really nice and having just watched the Netflix series "Barbarians" about Varus and the loss of his legions in the Teutoburger Wald, I could be tempted by Ancients!

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  5. An interesting post and links - thanks.

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    1. Thanks Peter, it might be worth comparing your new Roman / Carthage project with the lists.

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  6. Thanks Keith, I note that Killistra are just taking their 12mm in the direction of Rome / Barbarian and that Plastic Soldier Company have sold out of sets in their Black Friday sale, so perhaps the era is seeing a small scale revival.

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  7. Nice review and great minis/illustrations Norm!

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  8. Thanks Phil, your chosen scale of course. I would like to do a follow up to this post in time that shows a fuller involvement with the product. I have just joined the Society of Ancients and hope that some MeG articles appear there.

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  9. A good overview of the rules Norm and I will check out the video link later on. I'd be interested to see how solo friendly they are, given the current lockdown situation and for the future.

    The Ultracast figures look good and certainly have that Airfix nostalgia to them being on casting sprues.

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  10. Thanks Steve, the solo aspect was fairly important to me and I jumped because Simon's video shows that it is pretty straight forward. The rules are used in competitions and the will certainly take the card management to a different level, but I think for solo play, it just helps to put command constraints on each side, keeping the solo gamer honest :-)

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  11. A very interesting review Norm of something I had not previously heard of. I like the concept of figures that essentially come ready undercoated, the grey shade is perfect for ancients and can see how block colours and washes would work. I will watch the video later to see how the rules work.

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  12. Hi Lee, I like that it is giving me something new to explore. You will find the video interesting, even if only because of what is being pulled out of a small space.

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  13. Nice little write up, will be interested to see how you get on with them.

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    1. Thanks Phil, some system thoughts perhaps for David’s Aventine Carthage project. I will have a trial with my WotR bases.

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  14. Thanks Norm interested to see the review of the figure although I’m not looking at a new period at the moment 👍

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  15. Thanks Matt, never say never :-)

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  16. Norm, you may have just cost me money! Payback for the Neil Thomas book! :)

    With these rules and minis I am on the fence. I get to the point where everything is in the "shopping cart" and I'm ready to buy, but I haven't taken the plunge. My friends here all have DBA armies but I'm in Jonathan's camp and have large single based 4x2 stands mostly based for Commands and Colors or Hail Caesar.

    Anyways, a splendid review and much appreciated!

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  17. Hi Steve, there is a video by Simon in which he talks about using different basing, saying that a goal was that gamers would not need to rebase.

    I think these are a set of rules that your group might want to keep an eye on, as much as anything because he wants to expand them to other periods, so the continuity of the engine may be interesting.

    There is a bit to learn, so I want to be sure that these are a slick set and I need to actually roll some dice to give an opinion either way. I am enjoying the rulebook though.

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  18. Great review of the rules and figures, Norm. The unpainted sprues remind me a lot of Airfix 1/72nd. They look very good painted up too!

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  19. Thanks Dean, it will be interesting to see what comes next.

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  20. Dang it Norm! I was going to check these rules out for use in dark ages mass battles but successfully forgot about them, but you just reminded me all about it! Now I’m watching videos on MeG and seriously thinking about picking up the compendium! 😀
    Nice overview of the game and the miniatures came out great to my eye. I realize your Boudicca chariot.

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  21. Thanks Stew, the game does have some good video support and though I have seen several of them, as I read the rules I am diving back into a couple as they now have greater relevance.

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  22. Sounds like an interesting game,looking forward to seeing your early Imperial Roman and ancient British armies, the chariots are great!
    Best Iain

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  23. Thanks Iain, I think I will progress these to my ‘pinboard’ armies and the chariots have left me trusting that this will be a good look.

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